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Trump Again Attacks Former Miss Universe

Alicia Machado campaigns for Hillary Clinton on Aug. 20 in Miami.
Gustavo Caballero
Getty Images
Alicia Machado campaigns for Hillary Clinton on Aug. 20 in Miami.

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump renewed his attacks on a former Miss Universe winner Friday, heedless of the possible fallout with women and Latino voters.

In a series of tweets posted around 5 a.m. ET, Trump criticized Alicia Machado as "my worst Miss U." and described her as "disgusting."

Machado, who is now a telenovela actress, burst into political headlines during Monday's presidential debate, when Hillary Clinton described the way Trump had criticized the beauty contestant years ago for gaining weight after the pageant.

"He called this woman Miss Piggy. Then he called her Miss Housekeeping because she was Latina," Clinton said. "She has become a U.S. citizen, and you can bet she's going to vote this November."

The controversy might have had a short shelf life, had Trump not revived it with daily attacks on Machado. In his latest tweet storm, he references a video made when she was part of a reality TV show. Trump calls it a "sex tape," but according to Snopes.com (link contains adult themes), a website that debunks Internet rumors, the tape is "nothing more than some grainy, night-vision footage" and it's unclear what's actually happening in it. Trump also questions Machado's naturalization.

"Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?" Trump asks.

A Clinton spokeswoman says neither the candidate nor the campaign played any role in Machado's naturalization.

The incident could be costly for Trump with women and Latino voters. Democratic strategist Maria Cardona notes Machado is a popular figure in the Latino community:

"She's a telenovela star. Hearing the story about how she was bullied and fat-shamed by her very powerful boss in a very public way is going to, I think, add to that anger and that frustration that the Latino community already feels against Donald Trump."

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake agrees, telling NPR's Mara Liasson that "if he doesn't respect Miss Universe and calls Miss Universe 'Piggy,' what's he really thinking about you?"

Trump's insistence on extending the feud is reminiscent of his tussle with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parents whose Army captain son was killed in Iraq. Khizr Khan's emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention was given extra mileage when Trump attacked the family, and the candidate's poll numbers suffered.

Machado's history is not as blemish-free as that of the Khans. She was accused of being an accomplice to attempted murder in her native Venezuela in 1997, and the judge in that case said she made threats against this life. The criminal charges were dropped in 1998.

Machado insists her history is beside the point.

"I have my past, of course, everybody has a past," she told CNN. "And I'm no saint girl."

The Clinton campaign appeared to welcome the battle, and Clinton herself is expected to address Trump's tweets later today.

Machado issued her own response Friday via Instagram. Alongside a photo of herself draped in the American flag, she called Trump's attacks on women one of his most frightening characteristics, and accused the GOP candidate of trying to deflect attention from his shortcomings as a leader.

GOP observers could only shake their heads at Trump's willingness to go down this path.

"Hell knows no fury like a Latina who's been called fat," said Republican political commentator Ana Navarro.

Clinton (or her campaign) went on a tweet storm of her own Friday, calling the incident Trump's "Machado meltdown":

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: September 30, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
In a previous version of this story, Khizr and Ghazala Khan's last name was misspelled as Kahn.
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.